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By the people, for the people

March 27th, 2017

Gillian McIntyre. Photo by Craig Boyko.

To celebrate International Women’s Month, we’re highlighting some amazing women of the AGO and the legacy they’ve left here. Read our past entries on Julie Crooks, Katharine Lochnan and Maia-Mari Sutnik. Today we highlight Gillian McIntyre, Interpretive Planner.

Interpretive Planner Gillian McIntyre has been with the AGO since she began her museum career in the mid-1990s as an intern with an interest and passion for education and access. She has designed the interpretive plans for several AGO Collection galleries and a number of exhibitions including Inuit Modern, Iain Baxter&: Works 1958–2011, Michael Snow: Objects of Vision as well as more recent exhibitions such as Small Wonders: Gothic Boxwood Miniatures and The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris.

If you don’t work in an art museum, you may be asking yourself the question: what is an Interpretative Planner? Quite simply, they are multi-disciplinary professionals (educators, art historians) who works closely with curators to help tell the story of an exhibition or collection. Next time you see a text panel, an exhibition video, or a visitor feedback station in a gallery, you are viewing the work of an Interpretative Planner.

You’ll next see Gillian’s work in Georgia O’Keeffe, where she has worked with exhibition curator Georgiana Uhlyarik to reveal new insights about this modernist trailblazer. Gillian will be using O’Keeffe’s own voice, including quotes from the artist and biographical films, to help tell the story in O’Keeffe’s own words.

A career highlight for Gillian is a 2006 collaboration with fellow AGO Interpretive Planner David Wistow, called In Your Face: the people’s portrait project. David and Gillian wanted to create an exhibition entirely by and for the public, and they wanted to learn more about visitors to the Gallery. What better way to do this than ask them for their own portraits? They sent out a call for submissions, inviting people to submit a postcard-sized portrait in any medium with a promise that there would be no judging of the art, and no limits to the number of submissions.

In Your Face: the people’s portrait project at the AGO.

Submissions came from everyone, including professional artists (some in the AGO’s Collection), hobbyists and children. The In Your Face portraits were hung in a gallery near works by Picasso, Modigliani, and others. Submissions reflected the diversity of Toronto, and so did the visitors that came to see it. By the exhibition’s opening day they had over 10,000 portraits and by the end of the exhibition the total number was closer to 17,000.

The project made such a stir that it caught some international attention. Kate Maple, Curator at the Showcase Gallery at Solent University in Southampton, England read about the exhibition’s success in the journal The Exhibitionist, and reached out to Gillian to learn more in late 2016. A short four months later and the concept is now currently on view as  Small Faces. The community in Southampton had an enthusiastic response to the call for submissions, with over 7,000 postcards created by people of all ages and all walks of life. The exhibition is once again a lightning rod for creativity, and is a wonderful tribute to the work Gillian has done in the last 20 years to foster community and access at the AGO.

Make sure to check out Gillian’s latest work in the upcoming Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition, which opens to the public on April 22. Admission is free for AGO Members and for children five and under. AGO Members have access to an exclusive preview before the exhibition opens to the public. More information on the benefits of AGO membership can be found at

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